West End producer Hartshorn-Hook has unveiled an ambitious plan to become “the future of immersive theatre” with the creation of a dedicated company and a network of venues.
Its founders said they had their sights set on rivals such as Secret Cinema and Punchdrunk, and that they had been driven by the expanding popularity of the genre to start the new venture, Immersive Everywhere.
Hartshorn-Hook, which alongside producing and general management runs the Arts Theatre, is co-producing the forthcoming immersive version of The Wolf of Wall Street and general-manages the immersive Great Gatsby show in London, which has been running since 2017.
Immersive Everywhere will operate as a separate entity to Hartshorn-Hook, but with some co-producing crossover, and will be entirely focused on developing and staging theatre-led immersive experiences, joint chief executive Louis Hartshorn told The Stage.
“Some stories are much better told in a way that doesn’t have the traditional fourth-wall scenario. With immersive shows, the limits are endless when it comes to redefining what makes a venue. We don’t need to wait for a programmer of a West End theatre to say: ‘Here is your 10-week slot.’ Live entertainment has been quite strictly defined until now, but it doesn’t have to be,” he said.
Immersive Everywhere launches this month with a seven-strong team, which Hartshorn said he expects will grow to 10 by the end of the year. The company is a joint venture between Hartshorn-Hook and Showtime Theatre Productions, which is co-producing The Wolf of Wall Street and is also a producer on 9 to 5.
Hartshorn and Brian Hook will be directors of the company alongside Mark Hurry and Elliot Hargreaves from Showtime.
The Wolf of Wall Street will take place in a five-storey, 25-room found space in the City of London. Immersive Everywhere is set to announce two further venues in London by the end of this year.
Hartshorn said that in addition to staging shows – “from long-running pieces to pop-up experimental things” – the venues would house cafes, bars and rehearsal and workshop spaces to help the development of new immersive productions.
He acknowledged that the boom in immersive theatre has not been without its complexities. The challenges of creating purpose-built spaces meant a proposed new venue in Elephant and Castle fell through before opening, while another high-profile theatre, Space 18, has been delayed by at least four months. Meanwhile, issues around the safeguarding of actors and audiences have also been raised.
“Great progress definitely needs to be made in terms of immersive work. We have been consulting with the unions and with police and councils to try to get a new set of standards,” Hartshorn said, adding: “Our producers will focus on the shows – they won’t be the people trying to get venue management right. That is important.”
As part of this, The Wolf of Wall Street will have a dedicated staff member with responsibility for safeguarding, consent and inclusion, issues which Hartshorn said would be at the forefront of Immersive Everywhere.
“If you’re trying to create a situation in which an extraordinary experience can happen, you also have to face up to the fact that it carries a risk with it. That risk either needs to be appropriately managed, or it needs to not happen,” he said.